Nov. 2 2011 12:00 AM

A bombed Johnny Depp bombs with moviegoers


In case you haven’t heard, it’s a blast to be an international superstar.

If you’re Angelina Jolie, you can get
the financing to direct “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a love story
set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war, featuring such major box
office magnets as Goran Kostic, Zana Marjanovic and Dolya Gavanski.
(Well, perhaps they’re box office magnets somewhere.)

What about Madonna, whose cinematic luck
has been questionable at best in the more than 25 years since
“Desperately Seeking Susan” helped burnish her superstar credentials?
Although her first directorial effort, “Filth and Wisdom,” sank without
a trace in 2008, she was able to secure a sizable budget for her
follow-up, “W.E.,” a romantic fantasia involving a modern-day woman
(Abbie Cornish) obsessed with the scandalous affair between American
divorcee Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. Reviews so far have been
mixed at best, but that shouldn’t spell any sort of serious trouble for
Madonna the next time she feels like stepping behind the camera: Her
name remains bankable, simply because anything she works on is likely
to get considerable attention.

The same is true of Johnny Depp. Once
one of the most consistently adventurous actors around — in the space
of a few months in 1990, he launched his movie career by playing the
title roles in John Waters’ demented 1950s teen musical “Cry-Baby” and
director Tim Burton’s satiric fairy tale “Edward Scissorhands” — Depp
finally hit serious pay dirt with his portrayal of swishy swashbuckler
Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Since
then, he’s been content to more or less play it safe, headlining
several profitable Burton remakes (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,”
“Alice in Wonderland”) and starring in glossy showcases like the
empty-headed, eye-filling “The Tourist.”

But for years, Depp dreamed of bringing
Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical early novel “The Rum Diary”
to the screen. Depp’s earlier Thompson-inspired movie, director Terry
Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” was a box office disaster
in 1998, grossing less than $11 million; it’s built up a loyal
following in the years since.

Perhaps the cult cache of “Vegas” and
the fact that Depp is usually catnip for moviegoers inspired enough
investors to sink their money into “Rum.” They would have been better
off gambling on Captain Morgan than Captain Jack, however: “Rum,” in
which Depp plays a hard-boozing journalist in 1960 Puerto Rico, bombed
at theaters last weekend, selling only $5 million worth of tickets (a
pitiful average of barely $2,200 per location). 

It’s obvious that although moviegoers
adore Depp, they won’t automatically line up for anything he’s in.
Second, unless your movie has “Hangover” somewhere in the title, it’s
tough to sell a comedy that relies heavily on the questionable appeal
of drunken, debauched guys on a spree. Third, we now know for certain
that Hunter S. Thompson is a name that’s marketable in bookstores, not
in cinemas.

The $45 million film was shot two years
ago — always a warning sign — and had been in limbo ever since, waiting
for distribution. It’s likely that FilmDistrict, which previously
handled “Insidious” and “Soul Surfer,” regrets giving “Rum” a shot.

If Depp wants some consolation, he can
always turn to Bill Murray’s “The Razor’s Edge,” another superstar pet
project that was a far worse film (and an even bigger bust) than “Rum.”